In a career blighted by injuries, Shane Bond has kept the fire burning. The Kiwi fast bowler with a classical action is back in the international hunt after the ICC welcomed back players returning from the ICL.
The 34-year-old pace spearhead - Bond has 79 wickets in 17 Tests at a tremendous strike rate of 38.9 and 125 scalps in 67 ODIs at 27.5 (sr) - is in the city as part of the New Zealand ‘A’ team that will take part in the Buchi Babu tournament.
He shared his thoughts with The Hindu on a variety of issues.
Q: You are among the New Zealand cricketers who have agreed to the ‘whereabouts’ clause in the WADA Code. How long did it take for you to fill the forms?
A: It’s not something that you like, but it’s also something that you got to do to protect cricket’s image. Assuming one per cent of the cricketers are into drugs, the others, the majority of 99 per cent, should not get tainted.
It did not take me more than an hour the first time I filled the forms that dealt with the `whereabouts’ clause. An official of Drug Free Sport in New Zealand, which does the testing for WADA in my country, guided me.
Most of the times we are on tour or playing cricket in the country. That part of our schedule can be handled by the Board. All they want to know is where you could be present for an hour each day during the 90-day period, so that you could be accessed by the testing team.
On days I was not playing cricket, I gave the time as 6 a.m. when I would be present at my home on most occasions. I generally said I would be available at home, the ground or the gym. In case there is a change in your schedule or you are travelling, you can inform them through the net or through SMS. It would not take more than ten minutes.
Q: How many times have you been tested for drugs?
A: In my eight years in international cricket, I would not have been tested more than seven times. There is not too much testing for drugs in cricket.
Q: As a fast bowler, do you be believe drugs can enhance performance?
A: It can improve your stamina, recovery from injuries and in generating explosive speed.
Q: You have been genuine quick with a clean action. Do you believe?
A: Cricket has been soft on bowlers with suspect bowling actions. A distinguished panel of coaches in Australia recently decided to not to teach the young spinners the doosra.
A: There is no way you can bowl the doosra without bending and straightening your elbow. Whether this exceeds 15 degrees or not is for the authorities to decide.
Q: Test cricket, seemingly, is going through a trying period. There are plenty of ideas being thrown around..
A: I think the concept of four-day Tests or night Tests is rubbish. I do not agree with the two-tier format either. The top eight Test-playing nations are extremely competitive. A Test championship seems a more feasible idea.
I think the wickets, eventually, hold the key. The pitches, generally, have become flatter round the world. Apart from a few surfaces, you saw a couple of them in the Ashes series, the pitches have become extremely batsmen-friendly in all parts of the world. You do not see a green first day wicket any more.
I was disappointed when we did not have green-tops when India visited New Zealand last season. These days, the ball hardly seams or swings, there is less pace and bounce. The wickets are bone dry.
Q: Reverse swing is an answer but talks about ball-tampering crop up fromtime to time?
A: It is a genuine art. It’s about how you work on the ball. If too many people handle the ball, there would be sweat on both sides of the ball, which works against reverse swing. Normally, one fielder handles the ball and there is sweat only on one side of the ball.
Q: The bowlers continue to suffer in a batsman’s game. All the rules, the free hits, the power plays, favour the batsmen.
A: To balance some of that it, if a batsman get injured or becomes sick during an innings, he should not be allowed a runner. This would make the game far more interesting.
Q: Do you believe accomplished Test cricketers are quitting Test cricket for a longer career in the cash-rich Twenty20 tournaments?
A: Test cricket is the pinnacle and the cricketers appreciate that. But Test cricket is also extremely hard. So when the players reach the last phase of their career, they have to think about financial security and life after cricket as well. If they do not believe their body could stand up to the rigours of the five-day cricket, they could choose to prolong their career in ODI and Twenty20 cricket.
Q: Should the ICC and the various Boards, rework the schedule, reduce the number of matches? Lots of cricketers are playing with injuries.
A: There is more on the line now. The way these matches are scheduled, a cricketer has to play with niggles. But it is a catch-22 situation. Players will talk about the number of matches but if they play more matches they make more money.
Q: Returning to the subject of swing, do you feel that genuine swing bowlers are going out of fashion? The margin for error is less and the away going ball is a liability after the initial phase in the abbreviated forms of the game. There, invariably, is no slip in place and edges can carry to the fence…
A: I think there still are some very good swing bowlers around, against the odds. Take James Anderson for instance. He is the best swing bowler is the world presently. Not many can swing the ball both ways like he does. Brett Lee bowls good outswingers. Ben Hilfenhaus, Dale Steyn…they are all fine swing bowlers. I was more of an inswing bowler.
Q: Do you agree with the view that the great fast bowlers are gradually disappearing. Given the number of matches, bowlers want to stay away from major injuries. They do not really want to push themselves that extra bit to bowl fast. We now have more of fast medium-paced line and length bowlers.
A: I believe the bowlers of the previous era or the ones before that were not quicker than the present bunch of bowlers. Before the late 70s, batsmen did not wear helmets and bowling appeared much quicker than it actually was since the batsmen faced a greater physical danger. Of course, the pitches were livelier then. Take this Australian attack for instance. There are three guys who consistently bowl over 145 kmph.
Q: Coming to your career, how have you willed yourself back after stress fractures of the foot and back?
A: It has been tough. After my last operation, even my surgeon did not give me a chance of coming back and bowling at any reasonable speed. I did not believe him. I could not accept the fact that I could not be bowling quick again. I kept the faith. It has been a tough, painful process. I am getting there.
Q: Given your ability, you could have claimed more than 200 Test wickets by this time. The injuries have been a road-block. Aren’t you a touch disappointed when you look back at your career? Perhaps, you could have played longer stretches had you reduced your pace?
A: It’s better to be the best for a short time rather be mediocre over a long period. I have no regrets the way I have bowled. I have given it my everything. I know injuries have played havoc with my career but I have to accept that.
Q: You have now been recalled into the New Zealand ODI and Twenty20 teams. When do you intend playing Test cricket again?
A: My goal is to be ready for Tests when Pakistan tours New Zealand for a three-Test tour in December. I am looking forward to playing Test cricket again.
Q: New Zealand missed a strike bowler during the period you were in the ICL. The pace pack clearly lacked a leader.
A: I personally think the pacemen did a fair job even during my absence. Chris Martin bowled well and Iain O’ Brien had a very good year. We have been doing well as a group even if the results have not always gone in our favour. I am keen to join the bunch.
And getting back to the topic of pitches again, I hope we get to bowl on seamer-friendly tracks. The New Zealand bowlers have always done well when they have bowled in such conditions at home. Coming back to the series against India, we had to take a chance with green-tops even though India has a capable pace attack. You got to play to your strengths.
Q: You are known to be extremely passionate about playing for New Zealand. What then prompted you to sign up with the ICL.
A: Honestly, when I signed with the ICL, I did not think that the players who were a part of it would be banned from international cricket. It saddened me. I started playing cricket wanting to represent New Zealand one day. That was my greatest motivation. It still is.
Q: It must have been a trying phase for you, staying away from the New Zealand team…
A: It was. I used to catch up with the guys in the team hotel during the home series and spent time with them. But at the end of the day, I was not a part of the team. I could not take the field with my mates. It was disappointing.
Q: Who is the one bowler who has inspired you?
A: Richard Hadlee, without question. His bowling had all the attributes. And he had such a lovely action.
Q: Have you been following the ongoing Ashes series?
A: It has been a great advertisement for Test cricket. This is what Test cricket is all about, intense and combative. The 2005 Ashes series is the best single series of cricket I have seen.
Q: There has been a fair amount of sledging during the series.
A: Sledging is no big deal. As an international cricketer, you should be able to handle that. It is part of the game. I think it is good for the game (laughs) as long as it does not cross the line.
Q: You are an aggressive fast bowler yourself…
A: Aggression is a quality within you. It manifests differently in different cricketers.
Q: Has any aspect of the game changed dramatically since you started playing cricket?
A: The pace of the game has quickened. The batsmen are playing a lot more shots. Getting four runs an over in Tests is no longer considered difficult.
Q: Batting in ODI and Twenty20 cricket has impacted Tests…
A: Definitely. From the point of the crowd, there is more entertainment. But I would like to say again that we should strike a balance when it comes to pitches. The notion that big scoring matches alone are interesting is a flawed one. Some of the ODIs with middle-range scores have proved to be extremely exciting.
Q: There is the danger that the youngsters could start wanting to play the Twenty20 brand of cricket rather than working on their fundamentals…
A: Every young cricketer should start wanting to play Test cricket. Once his basics are sound, he can fit into the other forms of the game. It can never be the other way round.
Q: There have been quite a few modifications in rules. Are you happy with the umpire referral system?
A: As a bowler, you got to be. I think we would be getting more number of right decisions this way. And a match can swing on a single bad decision.
Q: Who are the finest batsmen you have bowled at?
A: Hayden, Ponting, Lara and Tendulkar. All of them have some great qualities. I would not like to compare them.
Q: Where does Shane Bond go from here?
A: There was a time last season when I thought I would never play for New Zealand again. This is a bonus and I live again.